Kayaking the Hanapepe River

I realize there’s been a lack of activity reports on this blog lately, so here’s one—with map goodness.

Kayaking the Hanapepe river is a quiet and easy outing if you’re on the west side, for example if you’re camping at Salt Pond. It certainly isn’t as lush and tropical as the east side or north shore rivers, and it is lacking a certain pitturesque quality that keeps it from being a major activity, but all in all, it’s another little corner of Kaua’i that is fun to discover.

The best place to put in is on the west side of the old one-lane bridge through town. Turn inland on Awawa Rd, the little road right next to the falling-down building, and then take the little dirt road down the levee and park out of the way. You should see an easy walkway down to the water a little back towards the bridge. Here’s a picture of the building, it was ruined by Hurricane Iniki in 1992 and never rebuilt.


I once tried to put in down at the harbor, but that was a bit tricky. I wanted to launch on the beach by the river mouth, but I had to carry the kayak down some rocks, and I think that is actually a corner of private property. You could probably walk right down the boat ramp, but then you’d have to paddle out around the little jetty. You’re still relatively protected inside the main breakwater, but this is also an active port.

You’re much better off paddling downstream from the first launch I described, because then you don’t have to deal with the ocean waves unless you want to. That section is very wide and unlike the Wailua river, the river mouth is plenty deep to ride out into the ocean and back in, if conditions allow. Because the bay is partly sheltered, the waves are a bit calmer here, and it can be a fun place to catch a few with the kayak.

From the put-in to the river mouth, you go under the old brige and past a really cool art-house next to the new(er) bridge. That house is even more interesting if you walk on Puolo Rd, which you would do if you took a short walk to Lappert’s ice cream after you put the kayak back on the car–just a suggestion. From the newer bridge, it’s about a half-mile to the ocean, floating past some old-time Hawaiian homesteads. Nothing fancy, but sometimes I wish I had a back porch overlooking a lazy river.

Alternatively, you can skip the whole section of the river downstream of the bridges, or save it for the end of the paddle if you want to earn your ice cream.

From the put-in, most people head upstream towards the “Swinging Bridge.” This is the cable and wooden suspension bridge for pedestrians to cross the river and access some homes on the other side. A lot of visitors walk across from the downtown area, but not many get to paddle underneath.


The bridge looks surprisingly longer from this angle on the river. I got the whole thing in a picture, and then it was too small to see. So the photo above is just the town-side of the bridge.

While the bridge is the biggest and most famous landmark on this whole paddle, this section of the river is almost ugly. The channel here runs between two levees that keep the residential areas from flooding but prevent you from seeing any of the town from the river. And the levees themselves are covered in weeds that are alternatively growing out of control or shriveled up brown, probably from herbicides that are sadly overused.

So once you go under the bridge, keep paddling until the next big turn. There, the first red rock walls of the Hanapepe canyon start, and the shore seems more natural. It isn’t really natural, these banks have been dug up and bulldozed and driven-on over the years, but it does look prettier with some nice monkey-pod trees.


This is the prettiest part of the river, but it only lasts a half-mile before the river gets too shallow. As the banks start to close in, and the rocks reach up from the bottom, you’ll see a split in the river. To the left is very shallow, and to the right are some rocks and this broken dam:


You can float almost to the dam, but then you have to get out. Once out of curiosity, we pulled the kayak though the openings in the dam and got back in, but we didn’t go much more than a tenth of a mile further. After grounding again, my wife walked a little to take in the scenery where the river is finally looking natural and free—even if there are more farms and homesteads just beyond the trees.


If you go, some practical considerations:

  • This is the west side, it is hot in the summer, even on the river. Go in the early morning or evening.
  • It’s only a mile from the second bridge upstream to the broken dam. We made the round-trip (2 miles) in less than 90 minutes, and we took our time. Add another 1.5 miles (and 60 minutes) if you paddle out to the ocean and back.
  • Beyond the levies, all the land here is private and actively farmed. If you get out at the dam, do not wander too far on the dirt roads or you’ll end up in someone’s backyard or planted field.
  • I really don’t want to oversell this river. There are some pretty spots and I got nice pictures of those, but it does not compare to Hanalei, Wailua, etc. However, it is a nice spot for an uncrowded outing, and despite some man-made ugliness, there is still some beauty of the land to be seen.

And I almost forgot the map from my GPS track (you can also download it as a Google Earth file):

Source: maps.google.com (click for larger version)

Printed from: http://great-hikes.com/blog/kayaking-the-hanapepe-river/.
© 2024.


  1. tara says:

    Really cool article! Interestingly the building (and the ones next to it) you mention were at one time an appliance store. They’re featured prominently in the (cheesy) movie “Flight of the Intruder.” The scenes at the bars in the Phillipines are all set on that street in Hanapepe. Lots of locals were extras in those sceneds. Also, much of the film was shot at the cottages at PMRF Barking Sands with views of Ni’ihau.

    Thanks – GREAT blog!

  2. Andy says:

    Aloha Tara,

    Thanks, and I’m glad you like the blog.

    I actually asked my wife last night if she knew what that building was, but she didn’t know either. We only moved to Kaua’i in 2003, but we lived in Hanapepe the first few months. In fact, we stayed in the rooms of old Hanapepe hotel for a few days, before moving to the cottages out back. That’s the old town building that was featured in the TV series The Thorn Birds (see kauai.net/hanapepe/intro.html). All of this to say that I am interested in old buildings and movie locations in Hanapepe, so thanks for filling me in on the details.

  3. Penny says:

    The building was called Y Shimomura Store. It was a general goods store that stayed open until the early 60’s when the new bridge was built. Traffic was diverted to the main highway instead of the old bridge. Family still resides on the island.

  4. Jenine says:

    If you keep going up this river, does it lead you to manawaiopuna falls? or Jurassic falls? Is the river county of kauai property? or does it become private property?

  5. Andy says:

    Hi Jenine. That’s a great question that required a whole post of it’s own to answer. See http://great-hikes.com/blog/public-access-waterways/.

  6. kwwc says:

    The area of Hanapepe river and Waimea river….there is no commercial ventures there allowed! These rivers are already endangered and under cultural management…WE appreciate it if you stop going and advertising our cultural areas…it is not a visitors’ playground nor are they welcome to go in our rivers and waterwalls—private properties of the river and banks! and tourists are not allowed–the illegal activities should be sited…these areas are peoples’ homes and private properties—we like our privacy like how all Americans like their privacy!!!…it is not respectful to keep intruding in this area and there will be a fine for violations very soon…This is not acceptable and you should stop because the Kanaka Maoli and the westside locals don’t appreciate this invasion!!!!! No aloha for intruders– go home and stay home! My beautiful home is turning into a foreigner’s resources grabbing that steal our better future for the Hawai’an people! This type of tourism and deadly to the native habitat!!!! SHAME>>>SHAME>>>SHAME>>>we are insulted and you provoke us—-we will protect ourselves, our treasures, and anyone who has respect will stop and leave! Anything outside from that is unacceptable! THIS IS NOT A TOURISTS ACTIVITY–IT IS TRESPASSING! KNOW IT AND SPREAD THE WORD!

  7. jim says:

    Whoa there kwwc! Take a deep breath and just relax. Nobody is taking your resources and invading your privacy by paddling up the river to the crossing. This is not private property while you are on the river, so dont act like it is. There is some nice peaceful areas up there, and as long as you dont walk into somebodys backyard, there is no harm.

  8. Andy says:

    Thanks, Jim, for the more level-headed perspective. Every now and then, I get comments like kwwc’s but usually more nasty and I don’t approve them. In this case, it was civil, though not factually correct as you noted–but I never got around to responding. I sometimes get the opposite type of comment, somebody trying to brag about trespassing and not getting caught, but I never post those. Someday, I should write about these kinds of comments.

    Just a reminder: to increase the quality of discussions, I actively screen all comments and must approve them before they appear.

    In any case, jim is correct that the river is public, but all land on the banks is private. I’m not sure about the road that crosses at the broken dam, but best to not end up in someone’s field or yard–anyways, there is nothing to explore here. I’m not sure whether commercial outfitters are allowed on the river, I don’t know of any restriction on them here. But the point is moot, because they don’t bother going here. I am further puzzled by kwwc’s comment, because kwwc is an acronym for Kaua’i Westside Watershed Council, and I don’t think they’d endorse such a message. Maybe it is someone trying to discredit that group, but I am unfamiliar with what kind of disputes might be happening on the West side.

  9. mike says:

    Hi Guy’s I am going to do this today leaving from friends house using his kayak…lives on river. I mean no disrespect to anyone or anything. You won’t even know i was there :)

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